Our capital Imphal-the city of sanity

Lunminthang Haokip
A HUGE PRIVILEGE IN OWN CITY : You feel lost and a forlorn feeling of being a ‘stranded stranger’ creeps in when you visit a new locality and fail to locate places in the big metros of our country. Before the advent of Uber type taxi services, some cabbies of the advanced destinations we Manipuris visit most often, were out to make a sucker of any ‘gullible traveller.’
At times taxi meters churned out digits at a rate faster than Tendulkar’s run-rate. Making capital out of the first-time visitor’s naivette in figuring out localities, shrewd taxi drivers took mindless detours just to pocket a few more Rupees. I was a victim of such. Thank God, at least in our benign ‘Pahari-dominated’ NEI States, we don’t come across such unsavoury trickery. For all its flaws in managing traffic and drainage flow, I love my Imphal. Here, I know most of the localities look like the back of my palm and feel rest-assured that no one would cheat me when I commute from one place to another. We Imphalites take this huge advantage for granted only to realise it in the shade of moments, when we feel sadly ‘offside’ in an outside State of sojourn. We feel ‘homesick’ even in the perfect form of good health.
I LEARNT IT ALL IN HOME-CITY : Back in the late 1970s, after graduation, I nursed a desire to rub shoulders either with the politically motivated students of JNU, Delhi or the bookish grads of DU. My family’s shoe-string budget couldn’t afford either of the revered academic hotspots. In my thirst for higher learning, the only option left for me was poor man’s JNU, that’s Canchipur’s JNU, Imphal Branch. I enrolled myself there in an MA English Literature Course, 1977-1980, batch and was on a roll to learn things on the great writings in the Queen’s Tongue. Having ‘piecing words together for effect’ as my hobby, being taught on the literary masterpieces, I felt like a hypochondriac in a medical convention. We had erudite Teachers like Prof. Tarania and Prof. Prasad to take us to another level of literary depth. It was another story that the genius duo kept on taking potshots at each other. I had as class-fellows, who were not glass-fellows, decent personalities like Kanan Kumar (later AIR Prog Exec), BP Sahu (Advocate), Sheila Romani (AIR) etc. In the class of 1977-80, we learned all that we needed to learn on home-turf. JNU, Delhi, couldn’t have taught us better.
SOMETHING OF EVERYTHING IN IMPHAL MARKETS : The difference between a research scholar and a bureaucrat is : the research scholar knows everything about something, and the bureaucrat knows something about everything. I belong to the latter category. In the big metros, it’s like a wild goose chase trying to find something of everything in a particular place. Separate markets sell separate commodities. It’s next to impossible to find electronic items in the old Chowringhee road of Kol. You have to travel beyond New Market, to Chandni Chowk to get a laptop accessory. Even in the National capital, the most complete electronic shops are located in Nehru Place. It’s a pain in the ass to travel for miles just to buy a shoe polish cream or a handled shaver. In contrast, in Imphal markets, you get all the things you need in day to day usage at Paona or Thangal Bazar. A moneyed shopping mom can shop till her bag drops at a chosen market. Unlike in the metros, Imphal has medical stores in every street corner. Our only problem is paucity of parking space. At Paona road, all items you fancy to buy are on sale. But when you park your vehicle in front of the chosen shop, a forest of eyebrows are raised. This factor accounts for the mushrooming of new showrooms in the city outskirts.
THE TROUBLER OF A COMMUTER: As I said earlier, as a retired (not yet re-tyred) obscure bureaucrat, I know something of everything. My brief tenure as Joint Director/MAHUD, GoM made me a part of an Urban Studies Tour in Bangkok and Singapore. In BKK, vehicle riders hardly honk. They also make way for pedestrians to walk past the zebra crossings first. I think Aizawl copies that to a T. A good copy is better than a bad original, anyway. Here in our otherwise advanced capital city, no leeway is given to the rider from the opposite direction. Drivers seem to vie with one another to cut corners. A long face is drawn towards the ‘supposed violator’ of rules; if not, an abuse is let loose. Add to that a 2-wheeler trying to whizz past 4-wheelers ! I think these mental mutual blame-game exchanged silently by commuters on our busy roads are caused by traffic bottlenecks at certain junctions. Let’s help our State Govt to come out with a plan to build flyovers at critical points like Keishampat bridge, Western Gate of Kangla, Checkon-Wangkhei road junction, North AOC junction etc. If need arises, we should also be willing to forego certain conveniences in the interest of putting an end to traffic jams. Singapore limits and rations issue of new vehicle licences. Paris prohibits SUVs to ply on downtown streets.
THE MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS: Once when I nearly went broke, I boarded a fully loaded city bus from Minto Park, below Maa bridge, Kolkata. As we were cruising on AJC Bose road, I readied myself to get down at Ripon street junction, the bus conductor mercilessly pushed me down at the stoppage point just before reaching my destination. The motive was to accommodate more passengers. I felt distraught, and let down. But what could I do ? Back at Imphal no one in his sane mind would do such an uncivil thing, even to a stranger. Here in our ‘Sana Leibak,’ even during the rise of insurgency movement (1977-1980), being a movie-freak then, very often, I cycled back to my Canchipur (JNU Imph Branch) hostel after the last movie show. That too on Singjamei-MU short-cut route via Naorem Leikai. I never faced a threat. Even in any other Meitei locality, whenever my vehicle (all the parts were making noise except the horn) conked out, the neighbourhood boys went the extra mile to help me out. Such was the basic human kindness my fellow-Manipuris exhibited when I was in dire straits. Shakespeare termed such a nicety as “The milk of human kindness (Macbeth - 1:5).” Other drivers usually abandon a non-performing vehicle on the wayside. But a Meitei brother behind the wheels will tire his nerves till the defective part is fixed.
WORLD CLASS CULINARY SKILL: In 1978, while I was dribbling football, in ‘imagined’ Maradona style, in a friendly match played in Univ ground at Canchipur, a senior official of SSU club, Singjamei, spotted me. In no time, he made me play as a striker of the Senior A team. That year, we as a team, matched the numero uno club of the late Seventies, TRAU, goal for goal. TRAU trounced us, SSU, only by penalty kick in the Senior League final match of 1978 at Imphal Pologround.
There was no monetary incentive in playing soccer in those days. But win or lose, our team was always treated well in an ‘eat-together’ fare at a ‘mandhap’ in a Singjamei Leikai. The food items skilfully cooked with the perfect proportions of maroi (spices) by professional hands were simply over-the-top. The local dishes like Ooti, Nga atoiba, eeronba, dal-fry prepared out of broken peanuts etc left a lasting impact on one’s palate. Bamons, for sure, know how to add value to a curry by adding home-grown spices like ‘Heiripok,’ ‘Nakuppi’ etc. The culinary value added and flavoured by the right doses of ‘maroi’ is mind-blowing. The world talks about Thai food in glowing terms. On my palate, a Manipuri Thali puts all other ‘plates’ in the shade. In good humour, I said to friends, “You don’t need to teach a Marwari the art of business, a Mizo the art of singing, a Manipuri the art of cooking, and lo and behold, a Kuki the art of gun-making !” There lurks an innate skill in members of every community.
THE TECHNICAL CREATIVITY OF THE MAJORITY COMMUNITY: There was a time when we Imphalites hosted social or official dos at the Tourism Dept-managed Hotel Imphal Ashok. We saw mediocrity then. I was truly impressed by the ambience when I re-visited the same hospitality premises, of late. The Classic chain of hotels gave the erstwhile average Govt undertaking a touch of class. Even the restro had been given a facelift. Whatever these ‘Classic’ brothers touched, turned into gold. They gave the hitherto mundane Sendra Restro a new shine. Looking at the row of magnificent structures in their Chingmeirong abode, an Officer said, ‘Wow! One building seems to outdo the other.’ I had an official stint with one of their brothers, Mr Shyamo, Retd. EE.
Our combo partly worked together on Bhagyachandra Open Air Theatre at Mapal Kangjeibung in my official capacity in 2012-14 period. His family’s technical finesse rubbed off on official projects too. Medical Science is another field in which our Manipuri Doctors raised the bar in North East India. Dr Achouba has few equals in tackling Diabetes. Shija Hospital did our State proud in Plastic Surgery. Be it in Sports, Movie-making, Theatre dramatics, Handloom and handicrafts, or Garage management, our brothers had always been one step ahead of its NEI counterparts. No wonder, it makes me feel proud to be a resident of Imphal. We have a rich reservoir of technically brilliant neighbours. May God bless our city more and more.